Celebrate Afternoon Tea Week with magnificent ingredients

Afternoon Tea at Woodbank House.PICTURE KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA
Afternoon Tea at Woodbank House.PICTURE KEVIN MCAULEY/MCAULEY MULTIMEDIA

Every year the Guild of Fine Food in London announce their Great Taste Award winners.

Northern Ireland has excelled in recent years with local butchers George McCartney and Peter Hannan winning the supreme Champion award three times.

Out of over 12,000 entries 207 were awarded the ultimate prize of three gold stars. The winners of this accolade from Northern Ireland included En Place foods from Cookstown, Whitewater Brewery and Millbay Oysters in Kilkeel, Hannan Meats in Moira and Neill’s Flour in Belfast.

I’ve been using Neill’s soda bread flour all of my life and was delighted to see it finally get the recognition further afield that it deserves. I’ve carted bags of it across Europe and America to use in cookery demonstrations. With baggage checks, taking white powder decanted into plastic bags has sometimes been awkward. But so far it’s all worked out well. There’s always something comforting about having products you know when you’re in a strange kitchen far from home. Neill’s were established in 1867 and my County Leitrim and Aghadowey born grannies both used it. My mother always bakes with their flour and it’s something I’ve done instinctively since I was a youngster. Good flour is a commodity not to be taken for granted, neither is trust in an ingredient that’s been relied on for generations.

This week is Afternoon Tea week in celebration of something traditional that’s recently become a phenomenon. Many establishments from cafes to fancy hotels are embracing the trend. The daintiness of small scones, miniature pastries and tiny sandwiches is very popular though I prefer a more rustic approach. Why mess around with four wee scones when one big bruiser will suffice. Call me old fashioned but I prefer a good big sandwich rather than several small ones.

Both recipes this week use Neill’s award winning soda bread flour. The first is for raspberry scones with whipped lemon and honey butter. You could make tiny ones or big ones, just change cooking times appropriately. If you don’t want to make the butter, jam and cream would be equally as good. For a savoury element my other recipe is for a roast chicken sandwich on soda bread flavoured with onions and cheese. I was working at Antrim Show a couple of weeks ago and cooked some chicken. Everybody raved about the flavoursome taste of the chicken. It was from Rockvale Farm in Tandragee. When you buy chicken in supermarkets it could be from anywhere and it’s reassuring to know that there’s a great quality chicken produced right on our doorsteps.

So celebrate Afternoon Tea week with real, local and magnificent ingredients.